Corticosteroids and Diabetes

Corticosteroids are a type of medication used to treat inflammation
Corticosteroids are a type of medication used to treat inflammation

Use of corticosteroids to treat inflammation can lead to higher than normal blood glucose levels and, in longer term usage may lead to type 2 diabetes developing.

What are corticosteroids?

Corticosteroids are medications that contain synthetic versions of cortisol, the hormone produced by our adrenal glands and responsible for the body’s stress response.

Corticosteroids may be taken orally in tablet form, via inhalers, via injections or within lotions, gels and creams.

Examples of steroid medications include:

  • Prednisolone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Dexamethesone
  • Fludrocortisone
  • Deflazacort

Corticosteroids are not to be confused with anabolic steroids, a type of steroid and class C drug which some body builders use, illegally, to build muscle.

When are corticosteroids used or prescribed?

Corticosteroids may be used to control inflammation as a result of conditions including:

  • Rhuematoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Chron’s disease
  • Lupus
  • Addison’s disease

Can steroids lead to diabetes?

One of the side effects of oral corticosteroids is that they can increase blood glucose levels and increase insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Typically, blood glucose levels will return to normal after you finish taking the steroids but in some cases, particularly if you have pre-existing risk factors for type 2 diabetes, you may be diagnosed with this form of diabetes.

Being on steroids for a longer period of time, over 3 months, may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Treating diabetes when on steroids

If you have diabetes prior to starting on oral corticosteroids, you need to be aware that your blood glucose levels may rise whilst you are taking steroids. This is more likely to be the case if you are taking steroids orally.

If you do not currently monitor your blood glucose levels at home, you may wish to ask your doctor if a prescription for home blood glucose testing will be appropriate.

If your blood glucose levels rise significantly, you may need to increase or change your diabetes medication.

Side effects of corticosteroids

Side effects of oral corticosteroids may include in the short term:

  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Increased appetite

With prolonged use of oral steroids, side effects may include:

Non-oral forms of steroids tend to have fewer side effects.

Steroid injections may include pain and swelling at the injection site. Inhaled steroids, such as for asthma, may lead to oral thrush.

Topical corticosteroids (creams, gels or lotions) may lead to thinning or darkening of the skin.

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